Would ILM have done a better LOTR?

Discussion in 'Lucasfilm Ltd. In-Depth Discussion' started by Darth_Angelus, Aug 14, 2002.

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  1. Darth_Angelus Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Dec 18, 2001
    star 3
    I think big time not. LOTR: FOTR FX almost reached perfection, and I think that ILM and their obssession with doing everything CGI now could have spoiled the movie. The FX team of LOTR used CGI only when asked for it, and the realism of the movie was impressive. ILM would probably use CGI to do all the orcs, the hobbits in plenty of occasions, and most of the Middle-Earth scenarios. The result would have been something like the poor work shown in movies like Return of the Mummy and Harry Potter (I still can´t stand their troll). Your thoughts?
  2. Ozzel TF.N Foreign Book Covers Staff

    VIP
    Member Since:
    May 14, 2001
    star 5
    I think most of the decisions of what will be CGI and what won't is Lucas' decision, not ILM's.

    LOTR's FX are good. But ILM could do better.

    I really wish ILM would've gotten this project (although you can only do so many epic trilogies at a time). Most of LOTR's CGI was pretty obvious (people jumping on the troll, Gandolf flying, the Felloship running through the mine); on the other hand, most people don't even know that clonetroopers were CGI. ILM has just about reached perfection.

    And I didn't know that ILM did Harry Potter. I agree, that is some of their worst work.
  3. malducin Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 23, 2001
    star 4
    Ho hummm. Well if you are going to argue one way or the other at least lets try to get the facts as stright as possible:

    * Sony Pictures Imageworks was the main provider of the Harry Potter VFX. They worked on the Quidditch macth, the troll, the centaur, the dining hall and moving portraits among many things. Rob Legato was the overall supervisor. And it wasn't so bad it was even in the VFX bake-off.

    * Many other houses contributed to Potter's VFX including ILM, Mill Film, The Moving Picture Company and Rhythm and Hues.

    * ILM's contribution to Potter were the python (when it was CG), the ghosts (in particular Near Headless Nick) and Voldermort. The ILM Supervisor was Roger Guyett.

    * ILM now is the main provider for Harry Potter 2, the overal supervisor is Bill George (he started as a model maker in 1979 for ESB), while Jim Mitchell will be the direct ILM supervisor. Again many other houses will work on it like Mill Film, MPC and Framestore/CFC.

    * The decision to use CG or not in a film is left to the supervisors, not directors. Though there was one exception with AOTC, Lucas said the clonetroopers would be CG. But 99% of the times supervisors choose the techniques. Direcotrs for the most part don't know what entails to accomplish a VFX shot.

    * ILM has about the biggest model shop in the VFX industry. They would have probably used as much miniatures as Weta for LOTR. During peak time ILM employed 60 model makers for AOTC, and there were other which had to work on other shows at the time.

    * Weta used CG when the supervisor, Jim Rygiel, thought it was the best approach. Just like ILM or any other VFX house.

    * Weta did make CG orcs, or are the ones from Massive don't count? They also used plenty of CG characters and stunt doubles. Also conversely, Ep. 2 and other ILM shows have used makeup FX and animatronics.

    * The Mummy Returns. Mostly people equate all the FX with the scorpion king but it did have some wonderful FX like the pygmy mummies. The reason for that is that the WWF didn't allow the Rock to go back later to ILM to complete the work. There were no cyberscans, only reference photos were used to model and texture the scorpion king. The original appraoch was to film the Rock like they did Kenneth Branagh for Wild Wild West where they aded the CG mechanical legs. They were going to use the Rock and just add the scorpion lower body, unfortunately this had to be scrapped.
  4. Lt.Cmdr.Thrawn The Another Saga & CT Manager

    Manager
    Member Since:
    Sep 23, 1999
    star 6
    ILM and their obssession with doing everything CGI

    Erm, no. Perhap's you've forgotten, but ILM did use at least 80 modelers for AotC, f'r example... nearly all the planets were models of some sort... Tipoca City (inside AND outside)? Model. Much of the Coruscant chase? Model. Geonosis? Model. Droid factory? Model. I've seen pics of AT-TE's against bluescreen, so those may have been models as well. In TPM, nearly the entire space battle was done with models. People think that ILM overuses CGI, and the do use it quite a bit. But people forget that they use other methods extensively as well.
  5. malducin Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 23, 2001
    star 4
    Most of the AT-TEs were CG. They had a few models for pyro work (when they blow up). Don't forget that also many of the environmnts also used matte paintings and real phtographed elements.
  6. Darth-Schwartz Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 16, 2002
    star 4
    the star wars pt almost has to be all cgi. you can find "locations" for half of the places. LOTR cgi was pertty cool but AOTC nailed it. LOTR hasn't yet shown me something that has blown my mind the efects (exept for the fire guy "balrog is it?") looked pretty standard.

  7. rumsmuggler Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2000
    star 7
    LOTR fx were just fine. I'll bet that ILM could have done better, but it's great none the less...
  8. MaxVeers TFN FanFilms Staff, Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Apr 24, 2000
    star 5
    Instead of letting ILM snag all the big projects, I think it's nice to see other companies like Weta given the opportunity to gain that experience. And as we know from LOTR and such they're also quite capable of doing well.
  9. malducin Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 23, 2001
    star 4
    Well some people also forget that it ILM that helped Weta. Wes Takahashi went to New Zealand to help establish Weta Digital, for the Frighteners. Also a few Weta people went to ILM to see what the pre-viz dept. did and then apply it to LOTR. Last but not least, Joe Letteri is Weta's Digital VFX Supervisor, he was long time member of ILM (Art Director, Supervisor for the SE, etc.).

    As far as them going after projects, well their size makes them about the only company that can bid on all the large ones. VFX is a very low margin business so everyone has to keep trying to go for every project.
  10. qui_gon_jinn_83 Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Sep 18, 2002
    star 1
    This is kinda interesting.

    If ILM was to redo the CG effects in the film, yes, I think it would be better. I don`t really know if they have an "obsession" with CG, but the amount of CG in LOTR was right for the film. So I wouldn`t want any additional CG stuff. However some of it I wasn`t at all impressed with. For example, the cave troll didn`t look all that great (and the design was dreadful!) :(
    Elrond and Isildur in Mount Doom also looked very fake to me. The balrog looked real in my opinion, but it didn`t really blow my mind like I had hoped for... Still, it is a very nice film, and I think WETA did a nice job on it. :)
  11. smauldookie Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Mar 5, 2002
    star 5
    Would ILM have done a better LOTR? HEll NO!

    Would WETA have done the PT'S better? HELL NO!

  12. Macho Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Sep 21, 2001
    star 4
    i think that LOTR's effects were great. Espically the war, i dont know if ILM could have done the better war seq.

    I think that Pearl Harbor really shows what ILM can do, i never would have guessed some of the stuff they had in there was CG
  13. Sarkham-Ming-Rendar Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Apr 15, 2003
    Let's be fair.
    LOTR is a great movie, but I truly believe that ILM could easily equal or surpass what we have seen in the aforementioned.
    Granted, WETA made an extraordinary job in the balrog sequences and the epic battles, but since the FX work is mainly decided by the supervisors its no wonder why WETA could come up wich such a grandeur.
    Since this is not a "George Lucas" movie ILM could very well use whatever techniques they could consider better or even necesary for any given moment.
    Since Star War is a George Lucas movie, and he is the owner of ILM it means it's his way or the highway.

    Anyhow, that's just my humble opinion.
  14. Jack-D-Ripper Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Dec 21, 2002
    star 2
    I don't think ILM would have been right for LOTR's effects. They would have been outsiders, whereas WETA was so intimately involved with all the sets, props, design, story etc that they just brought something special to the production. A lot of their effects seem very old-fashioned, but that is right for the movies: they need to have an ancient feel to them. It just wouldn't work too well if it were all slick and clean like ILM's Star Wars effects. WETA's effects are just so practical and there is a common-sense appraoch behind it all. Sure, it doesn't all look as pretty and neat as ILM's effects, but then it shouldn't be. I really love the miniature-based approach: it makes it all blend into the rugged natural locations of the films. Could anyone have done that epic camera move from the bottom of Barad'dur to the top 3,000 feet later, any better than it was in TTT? I can't imagine improving on that.

    -JDR.
  15. malducin Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 23, 2001
    star 4
    Actually both George Lucas and Peter Jackson are guilty of the same thing but in opposite directions. You are right, most of the times the specific techniques are chosen by the Supervisors, but at times the director has overridden the decission. Lucas with demanding that the clone troopers be CG (despite John Knoll's and Ben Snow's objections). Peter Jackson would sometimes insist that some stuff be done with miniatures or else: there was a story from a Weta guy who said that in one shot about to be finalized PJ asked if it was miniature and not CG, the crew told him it was, despite it was done with the help of CG, PJ couldn't really tell the difference and approved it; shows how aversion or misunderstanding of CG could hinder the process.

    On another note, you do know that Ep. 2 was one of the biggest miniature shows in history right? And I don't subscribe to the theory that the VFX of LOTR should look ancient or if they are too obvious that they fit with fanatsy and type of story. Poppycock, considering SW is mostly a fantasy set in space. I much subscribe to the older philosophy that for scifi and fanatsy movies the VFX have to be as realistic as possible, since you want to make believe that the setting (Middle-Earth, the SW Galaxy) is a real place.

    The stuff about being outsiders is really another matter. It's just that the directors that own their facilities use them. And after all ILM works mostly as an outside contractor. I never understood also this thing about "clean" VFX.

    And yes, a ton of facilities could have done that shot of Baradur, including the stupid eye. And yes it could be improved, many times PJ's style is to have this free style virtual camera which sometimes breaks the illusion. I much prefer it when they simulate like it as an helicopter shot or something like that. Unconstrained camera moves are bad for the most part, though they can also be effective in certain circumstances.
  16. Sarkham-Ming-Rendar Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Apr 15, 2003
    I always agree with this point.
    I guess what I was trying to say is that every company has its ups and downs, but each of this is gain by the work of their own. It just like(I don't remember where I read this)an information that just caught my eye and it was that WETA and ILM used a I don't remember if it was a software or something else, but it enhances the quality of the effects of the flames. You can see this in LOTR in the Balrog sequence or in AOTC chasing in Coruscant and many others.
    So I guess its depends not only in the work of the supervisor but also what kind of tools you have at your disposal.

    And thank you Malducin, your knowledge is always well appreciated.
  17. malducin Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 23, 2001
    star 4
    Well in many cases it depends on the budget and time constraints. Sure supervisors and the artists want superb work but sometimes you have to make tough choices, do something until it's good enough, use a cheaper or faster approach even if it's not up to par to the rest in less important shots. When you have to complete over 2200 shots in 18 months you might have to make some tough choices here and there. Same thing with Weta, they had an enourmous workload and some shots might vary, and even they farmed out a few.

    Both ILM and weta are Maya houses. The Balrog fire, which I thought was just fabulous, was done with a particle sprite system of filmed elements. Compare that to the fire of the Ent in flames in the battle of Isengard, which looks more like just the straight Maya fire preset. Sure it may not look as good but it's a quick shot. On the other hand they had plenty more important stuff to worry about, not only Gollum's animation, but the fact that for countless shots Serkis had to be rotoed out and the missing parts painted or composited in. Same thing happened to ILM in quite a few shots of Ep. 2 but in the end for both films most stuff was great. ILM does use Maya for setting up the fire too. I believe all the fire in the Coruscant shots were filmed elements but I would need to check, most of the pyro in Ep. 2 was filmed. Some stuff like the smoke plumes (like the ones in Pearl Harbor) were done via some very imperssive propietary software. On the other part something as quick as the fire in Sebulba's pod engine in Ep. 1 when it crashes was a little Maya soft body object with a good shader attached to it.

    By the way ILM helped Stanford in some research for doing CG fire on a paper presented last SIGGRAPH. The results were very impressive, though at that time the research hadn't been applied to production yet. You can check it out at Ron Fedkiw's page:

    Ron Fedkiw's page
  18. Sarkham-Ming-Rendar Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Apr 15, 2003
    Pretty impressive piece of work!.
    So I guess this means that new tools and technology are in way and it will be ILM who bears the weight of that kind of technology. but then again, in the years to come every single company will have a piece of that "cuting-edge" technology.
    In another topic I very impressed with the vfx in "the matrix: reloaded", wich leads me to a question: How could they ever come up which a great effects?
    Something that bothers me its that all the people are making such noise about it, I mean those effects are really good, but I dont' think will be used again in other movie other than the Matrix, and what bothers me the most is that the academy reward it. I had always believed that visual effects should be awarded for breaking grounds making the creation of movies easier not just to show a pretty good "visual show"(which in no case is wrong)that we will never see it again in similar terms.
    I heard that one of the most impressive things about the sequels of The Matrix is the creation of nearly perfect CG human characters which is indeed commendable, but other than that the "bullettime" thing is overrated.
  19. Jack-D-Ripper Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Dec 21, 2002
    star 2
    On another note, you do know that Ep. 2 was one of the biggest miniature shows in history right?

    Oh yeah, sure, AOTC is FULL of miniatures. Most of the buildings and many of the ships were miniatures, as it was with TPM as well. AOTC's effects are just awesome, but I also think LOTR's effects are among the best ever done. Funny: people go on an on and on about how CGI sucks and miniatures are better and all that, then they complain that too much LOTR stuff looks like miniatures! (You don't do that, being as knowledgeable about effects as you are, I'm sure you've noticed that this does happen.)

    I want to know, however, exactly what was wrong with the Eye of Sauron atop Barad'dur? It looked like a flaming eye to me: I don't know how else it could have looked.

    BTW, I think the last shot of TTT is just awesome: the Tower, Mt. Doom, Dragons, orange lightning: just brilliant.

    -JDR.
  20. malducin Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 23, 2001
    star 4
    Sarkham-Ming-Rendar:

    Well it's not only ILM it was just an example. It's just the two sides of the coin: on one hand large VFX companies are very secretive about their technology and such to keep a competitive edge, but on the other hand they sometimes get ermission to release some research, especially if it can impact not only the VXF but the whole CG industry. ILM has had an R&D agreement with Stanford and have published several SIGGRAPH papers as well. They also released the OpenEXR file format. Bill Spitzak from Digital Domain released FLTK, a windowing toolkit, and it has actually been used at ILM (and probably many other places). Rhythm and Hues have been the main force behind Film Gimp, now called CinePaint, and Imageworks has been very gracious in providing code samples in their RenderMan course notes. Pixar and PDI have also published several papers. As far as ILM they have the biggest R&D deopt in the VFX industry, around 25 to 30 people, though animation places (like Pixar and PDI) could have bigger ones. But you are right in the end the technology tricles down to everyone, but only the major players are the ones capable of setting the pace.

    As far as The Matrix it came down to 2 things. First was the use of the camera arrays which was not new even then, having alerady been used in the Gap commercials among others. Even by the time of the Matrix, dead time was considered cliched and overused, like morphing was. The second thing was the new research from Paul Debevec in image based techniques which allowed the creation of the virtual sets. One of the guys with Debevec joined Manex and worked on that. It was not exactly totally groundbreaking but still a major accomplishement. What set the Matrix apart is that story wise there was a justification for the bullet time.

    As far as the Academy, the rules are worded in such way that they could be interpreted as choose "the best movie with VFX" as opposed to "the movie with best VFX". Second the actual Oscar is picked by the whole membership, and that includes old actors, producers, screenwriters, etc. who probably don't have the foggiest idea of VFX. Hopefully the VES Awards will correct the situation just like other Guild awards.

    I do agree that bullet time is almost dead except for the Matrix sequels. It has been parodied and overused too much, just a gimmick. Just like zoom lenses, lens flares or morphing were. Actually what bothers me more is the wire work for the fights. Now evryone can jump 15 ft in the air do a hundred spins, etc. It has killed good stunt work. I mean like in Daredevil, you have that shot with Electra jumping to another building, maybe 30 ft away, and in the jump she just glides and floats with her legs extended and lands with almost no impact on her knees. Charlies Angels was just as bad if not worse. There are times when it's justifiable story wise, like in the Matrix or Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (and the upcoming Hero), but for supposdely regular folks it's just ridiculous and I hate it. It's also happening in car chases but it's not bad yet. And at least there are still good one owadays like in Ronin or Bourne Identity.

    Jack-D-Ripper:

    Yes I do hate the complaining. To me the worse is when they say people can spot CG so it must look bad. I mean, if you see the alien or dino or reatuer walking all over the place, of course it's CG, no animatronic could do that. Well duhhh!!! That doesn't mean it doesn't look real. Most people lack the eye and vocabulary and understanding about real problem in FX. You don't hear much about people really stating things like differences in film grain, mismatched shadows or lighting, mach bands and flickering, minor unclean blue screen extraction, FX not corectly matched, etc. And the other hand of people well the miniature or puppet is better because it's real, but if you really look at them on a big screen you can easily see it's latex or a miniature shot with depth of field problems, no atmospherics, etc. It seems because people know how to turn on a computer they can rip something apart.
  21. Sarkham-Ming-Rendar Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Apr 15, 2003
    I'm out of words I mean you just read my mind and you did it well. Since I believe, and I always sustain this, that the companies ought to seek the perfection always, and I always appreciated when it's well rewarded for it's innovation and not because they bring us a good show.
    Now I think I'd heard the in the VES of this year Weta wipe the floor with ILM since I think ILM won just one award(something about matte painting).
    I guess this year wasn't a good year but I don't loose hope since I keep my expectations high for the hulk.

    What does everybody think?
  22. Jack-D-Ripper Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Dec 21, 2002
    star 2
    On another level the shot also kind makes me grind my teeth, because it has a bit too much of a virtual freestyle CG camera feel to it. I adhere to the philosophy that cameras (VFX ones) should be made as if they are physical (except in some storytelling purposes), say they could have made it look like a helicopter shot of Baradur. I know it's PJ's style but sometimes he probably doesn't know better.

    I suppose its a matter of personal taste, but I REALLY love that shot of Barad'Dur in TTT. Maybe it has some "technical" issues, but I don't care, as it really was an awesome shot that really grabbed me. I just love the way the tower seems to go on forever, through the clouds. And it was a great reveal after the teasing glimpse we got of it in FOTR. Anyway, strictly speaking, it wasn't a "virtual" camera shot as it was actually done with a real camera and a real model tower. I do agree that sometimes directors can get carried away with virtual camera shots, but I think Jackson handles them well. I do CG animation myself, and I usually try to make it all as if there was a real camera filming it, even down to making pans and tilts slightly jerky as if there were a person moving the camera around. But sometimes, you just have to defy reality, espeially at times in a film like LOTR where you're showing an awesome tower bigger than any of our real skyscrapers.

    -JDR.
  23. malducin Jedi Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 23, 2001
    star 4
    Well maybe I'm confusing it with another shot, maybe even with the Felloship. There are a few virtual camera shots in LOTR, some good some bad, so maybe I'm confused, I'll tke your word for it. The one I remember clearly which I dislike is when the birds go inside Orthanc in the Fellowship to tell Saruman. It looked lie a motion simulator ride thing!!! On the other hand the camera following Legolas arrow in the fight at Kazadum is a good story point and perfectly acceptable. I'm not saying all is bad, but like many movies, including Ep. 2 (don't get me started with that ;-), there are some issues. Still you can say that the vast majority of the work was pretty darn good. I myself prefer the shots of the Black Gate in TTT.

    As far as the VES awards, yes Weta and TTT won most of the awards. ILM was the most nominated company but only won for Best Matte Painting for Ep. 2. Charles Okun said that since this is the first year they are also using it to work out the kinks. I don't knoew the rules but maybe they have a bias also of choosing "the best film with VFX" as opposed to "best VFX in a movie". Besides we are all human.
  24. StarDude Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Nov 28, 2001
    star 5
    ILM is the top choice and I too wish they had done work for LotR.

    I remember seeing AotC for the first time... I didn't realize the Clonetroopers were CG until my second viewing, and there were times where I forgot Yoda, and the Kaminoans were CG.

    Even back in 1999, with the release of TPM, I forgot that Watto wasn't even there talking to the actors. Same with Jar Jar. The only time where the CGI stood out was in a few shots of the Gungan/Droid battle. I still can't believe the Podrace was practically all CG.

    Mind you, LotR has outstanding SFX. But it just doesn't compare with what ILM can acheive.
  25. Jack-D-Ripper Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Dec 21, 2002
    star 2
    I myself prefer the shots of the Black Gate in TTT.

    Agreed. That shot is amazing.

    BTW, the shot of Barad'Dur I'm talking about is quite early on in TTT. Its part of the montage where Saruman is is giving a monologue, and the scene cuts to the causeway beneath Barad'Dur, where you see thousands of Orcs marching into (or out of) the tower, and the camera just moves straight up, without much sideways movement, and it just keeps on going upward, through a layer of cloud of ash, until it gets to the top with a closeup of the Eye.

    -JDR.
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